Coach K on Nolan Smith’s future as a coach

Courtesy of Blue Devil Network/@DukeMBB

Coach K addressed a number of topics ranging from how practice has been progressing, the growth and maturity of his upperclassmen, what he’s seen from his freshman class, scheduling difficulties and how the team and staff have handled life in a pandemic.

 

Opening statement:

“Hopefully you and your families are all doing well. As a program and my family, we’re good. In fact, really good. The kids came back the first of August. We did all the stuff we were supposed to do — started school and at that time we were in one-day-a-week testing. Since then, we get tested every day – the PCR test. We haven’t had any positives, not just from our team and our coaching staff but also our whole basketball team – secretaries, trainers, everybody. We haven’t had any injuries, any problems with that. I think Duke Athletics has done a marvelous job. A guy named Bob Weiseman – if I was in a war, he’d be one of my generals, I’d tell you that. He’s really done this properly and I think Duke has done a good job. Their decision to de-densify this first semester, I think has proven to be a very wise decision. We’re just going to keep moving on and keep navigating as the landscape for college basketball continues to change.”


On how the program is preparing for a schedule with so much uncertainty:

“Actually, to be quite frank, I think we’re prepared better than we usually are because our kids have been in a bubble. The extra time, even from going from four hours a week to eight hours for a couple weeks and now to the regular 20-hour week, and not having any guys injured or sick – they’ve gotten a lot of individual instruction because they’re kind of in their own bubble. Most of their classes are remote. They’ve become really close as a unit, and then it’s just a matter of how long can you maintain that without having any outside competition. In other words, we’ll have to navigate. What happens if games are canceled? I saw where the Gavitt Games were canceled today or last night and the MTEs (multi-team events) in Orlando – things that I think we should’ve anticipated happening when people were trying to put this thing together and how it could be done for safety and also for the best possible season. But we continue to change week to week and we’re going to have to navigate that because that’s the landscape that we’re in … Hopefully, by the time we do play, there will be national protocols medically so that everyone who’s playing against one another will be under the same medical protocols, which I think are essential to the safety of these kids. We’re good. Our guys are good. They all want to play and we’ve got to make sure that there’s a safe environment and they have an opportunity to play.”


On how difficult the scheduling process has been:

“It’s been really difficult for everybody. Now, you put in another thing with those MTEs being canceled. People are losing games. Jon Jackson, who – he and I work hand in hand in this and he’s done yeoman’s work in this regard. In cutting down from 31 to 27, it should have been where you just give 27 games. We didn’t do that, so then people tried to form their own MTEs, get into different things and now, you can get into two MTEs. You’re trying to figure out games. I just think the planning in that regard was not very good. Once you cut down from 31 to 27, you should’ve just given everyone an opportunity to schedule and not worry about the MTEs. We actually have formed our own because we had to. It’s crazy. It could’ve been easy to just say ‘Everyone’s got 27, let’s go.’ Jon Jackson has been working like crazy to get it done. Right now, we have pretty much what we think is a 27-game schedule, but we’ll just wait until tomorrow and then the next day and the next day and then you have to adjust accordingly. When I was growing up in Chicago, we lived near the Columbus Park school yard, and on a Thursday we could schedule a game with the guys at Riis Park on Saturday and maybe the guys at Humboldt Park on Monday. Who knows? I’m going to check on those Riis Park and Humboldt Park guys to see if they’re available in case we get any cancellations. It’s crazy.”


On how Tre Jones, Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Stanley’s games translate to the NBA as they prepare for the draft:

“For us, it’s translated pretty well because they’re all ready and they’re getting ready. They have great representation. They’ve been working out. You’d be shocked – Vernon weighs 237 pounds now. His parents got mad at him, stopped feeding him – no, he’s really worked hard. I talked to his agent two nights ago and we end up talking to a lot of NBA people about our guys. Tre has got great representation also and he’s really done well. He’s been out at P3 in California. He’s showing even more athleticism. Cassius is represented by a really good guy, his Dad. We keep in constant communication with all of them and they’re anxious, but I think they’re all in good places. I think they’ll end up well, hopefully with great organizations that will help – especially with Vernon, because he’s the youngest – to help in his development.”


On where he sees Nolan Smith’s future:

“Huge. Nolan, whether it be in college or in the pros – he’s got ‘It.’ Not just talent, he has ‘It’ – the personality, the people skills, the organizational skills. They still think he’s the mayor here of Duke from when he played. The people’s champ. He’s done an amazing job during this pandemic and with all the social unrest. Actually, we have a Brotherhood Zoom tonight with all of our former players. The stuff that we’ve done as a result of that, Nolan kind of started that. In our community, he’s like the Pied Piper. I recruited him not just to be on our staff, but we have an amazing place in Durham, the Emily Krzyzewski Center. It’s 15 years old and it really reaches a couple thousand kids in our community. I recruited him to be on our board because I thought that he could connect. We have a very diverse board – it’s an unbelievable one of about 20 people. He really connects with people. It’s unlimited, the potential for him. He’s going to be a real early head coach at a college or university, or I could see him being in the pros too. He’s just got it. He’s been able to do more because of his job as the director of basketball operations. During this pandemic, they’ve kept me away where it gives him an opportunity to work with the kids too. He’s got it. He’s gotten a lot of offers already from different people and I’ve said ‘Just hold tight.’ He has a beautiful family. Camryn is the little girl they have and they’re expecting a little baby boy. I have a feeling the odds are in favor of them naming him after his Dad. His wife, Cheyna, is a former Air Force officer. He’ll have that team. I think in order to be really successful as a coach in this game, whether it be the woman and the man or the man and the woman depending on who the coach is, it’s got to be a team. He’s got that already also.”


On if there was a point he saw Nolan Smith take an active role in the community:

“I think it happened when he was a student here. He was not the ideal kid to coach initially. He was a tough coach for a little bit. Then, he got it. That’s why he was a four-year guy. Some of the bridges that these kids are never able to cross in their maturity as a player and as a person as a result of going [to the draft] early is kind of sad, really. For him, he had the benefit – although he had lost his Dad before he was 10 – Monica, his mother, is a beautiful person, and his sister is beautiful. I know because I’ve been influenced by four great women – my three daughters and my wife. He had the benefit of having a woman’s perspective and support as he learned to develop another perspective with male leadership. Once he got that combination, it just went off the charts. He could speak to that more if he wanted to. His junior and senior years here, he got it and he became outside of himself. He allowed the things that were inside to come outside and he didn’t realize how many beautiful things he had inside of him that would resonate with people, not just in the sports world. He’s an exceptional human being. I’m proud of him. I love him. If the room was dirty with responsibility, he’d be the best vacuum cleaner that you could have. He would get every bit of that responsibility. He’s a heat-seeking responsibility guy – unbelievable. He gets things done before you know that they should’ve been done. It makes me a lot better, I’ll tell you that.”


On if this team will be similarly ‘old-fashioned’ as he described the 2019-20 team:

“I don’t know what old-fashioned means anymore. These kids are really together and we’re athletic. We’re young. We don’t have as much separation from one to 11, but we’re getting more. They’re making each other better. There’s competition, because when you go five-on-five, you’re going against five other good players. They love one another, they work hard, they’re in the gym all the time and then we are seeing some separation. Matt Hurt – he’s been terrific. He’s 20 pounds heavier, confident, he doesn’t look like he should be as quick as he is, but he is. In the last two weeks, Wendell [Moore Jr.] has really taken another huge step forward. [Jordan] Goldwire has been outstanding and he was outstanding last year. A kid that’s really come on, especially this week, is Jeremy Roach, but all of them have. DJ [Steward], Joey Baker – they’ve been good. We have a lot of pieces and we’re going to play a very up-tempo game and fast paced. Mark Williams is somebody that we’ve never really had. He’s young, and he’s always had some tendinitis knee problems, but he’s 7’1 with a 7’5 wingspan. He’s been good too. [We have] a lot of good pieces, so we’ll be playing more people than we’ve normally played, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be equal playing. When you get separation, the guys who separate, some need to play more and they will.”


On what his impression was of freshman Henry Coleman III speaking to Duke student-athletes at an on-campus protest during the summer:

“It was unbelievable. Nolan [Smith] organized a thing with all of our student-athletes that was beautiful. Not good – it was beautiful, right out in Krzyzewskiville and social-distanced. Kara Lawson spoke, a few of our leaders on campus spoke, I had an opportunity to speak and then it was good he was the last person. Henry – he’s a freshman – he goes up and he doesn’t just knock it out of the park, it’s a Grand Slam. The family he comes from – it doesn’t surprise me. This kid is even a better player than I thought, but as a person, he’s been our most energetic and he’s kind of loud, really, in a good way. He’s not like your typical freshman. But for him to just say that extemporaneously and with the emotion that he did shows we’re very lucky to have him. I hope I’m around when he’s stopped playing to see who he becomes, not just as a player. I just think he’s going to be a very special guy in our country. He’s that good.”

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